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Xmas 2015 crime author of the month interview with Craig Russell

Photo: ©Jonathan Russell

1. How did you get started writing? 

 I’ve been a professional writer, in some form or another, for thirty years and a full-time novelist for twelve of those. I knew I wanted to be a writer—and I have written—for as long as I can remember. It really is what I am and I feel I came hard-wired for it. I could read before I ever went to school (which caused all kinds of problems!). I always knew I wanted to make my living as a writer and I always say that any other job I’ve ever done was just ‘research’.

 2. What drew you to write a crime novel?

 To start with, I didn’t think of it that way. I decided I wanted to write a novel, and I knew the themes and the ideas I wanted to explore. Crime fiction is a great narrative format and a very, very broad church, so it seemed a natural fit. And, dare I say it, when I decided to write a novel, I did the usual thing of buying something by a leading writer in the crime genre—I have to be honest and admit I thought it pretty dull stuff and took a really up-myself-arrogant ‘well if that can get published…’ attitude. The truth is, of course, that literary quality really isn’t a benchmark for success in genre fiction—there are so many other engines that drive a crime novel.

 Many of my publishers today consider what I write as more thrillers than crime novels. And, of course, I write other stuff that is decidedly not crime.

  3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?

 Everyone I have read! I know this list sounds pompous, but these are genuinely the authors who made a huge impression on me: when I was younger I read everything from Chekov, Poe, de Maupassant, Dostoyevsky and Gogol to Lawrence, Braine, Sillitoe, Huxley, Bradbury (Ray, not Malcolm), Camus and Sartre. The biggest influences on me have probably been Heinrich Böll, Franz Kafka, Gunter Grass and George Orwell. Raymond Chandler undoubtedly influenced Lennox, but oddly the genesis of the character was perhaps even more inspired by the short story Pale Anna by Heinrich Böll.

 After I published The Third Testament, under the name Christopher Galt, comparisons were made to Philip K Dick, so I’ve started reading his work. He explored many of the themes I like to play with, principally the nature of reality. There have been a few characters in the Fabel novels who have had a skewed sense of reality. And, of course, the substance of a detective story is the chipping away at accepted realities to discover the real truth beneath.

 4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest? 

 I was unbelievably lucky. I was working as a full-time freelance writer, which perhaps helped. I hadn’t even finished the first book, Blood Eagle, when I had three agents keen. Before I knew it I was down in London being signed up. Then there was an auction between several publishers.

 Like I say, I was very lucky!

  5. There are many interesting characters in your Novels, do you have a particular favourite one? 

 I like Jan Fabel and Lennox for different reasons. I think you have to have an empathy for your protagonists, even the flawed ones. In the Lennox novels, everyone loves Twinkletoes McBride—mainly because of his attempts to learn a new word (to mispronounce!) every week. It kind of worries me that so many people feel affection for someone who got their nickname by playing ‘this little piggy’ with a pair of boltcutters!

  6. What kind of research have you to undertake for your Novels? 

 The research is constant. There’s no ‘research phase’ or ‘writing phase’—one informs the other organically. Readers have said the research for The Third Testament, which I wrote as Christopher Galt, must have involved a huge amount of research. It certainly did, because of the scope of the book—but it was all part of the development process and I don’t recall the research as being an onerous task. The truth is I really, really enjoy research—almost as much as the writing itself.

 7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life? 

 Not directly, no. Someone I know recently suggested a character was based on their father, which I found surprising (and very funny!). Obviously, every character is a composite of people I have known, but it’s all on an unconscious level. I have never based a character directly on someone I know—it would be like taking someone from a different universe. The characters in the books grow organically and take their own, unique, personalities.

  8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Scottish Crime Fiction Novels out there 

 I think that would be for readers to judge. All I know is that I do my own thing, plow my own furrow. I try to deliver something that is different and has a distinctive voice.

  9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?

There probably is, but other people maybe see it more than me. I would say the closest is Dr John Macbeth in The Third Testament… which, if you read the book, is a bit worrying really!

 10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.

 The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid comes out in summer next year and is the fifth Lennox. I have other Fabels planned but also some very different, non-crime standalones.

 11. Out of all the Novels you have written do you have a favourite one that stands out to you? 

 Brother Grimm. No… The Ghosts of Altona. No… definitely The Third Testament. Wait a minute… Dead Men and Broken Hearts… I guess I’m the wrong person to ask!

  12. As a well known crime writer do you have words of advice you can share

 Read and write. If you want to be a writer, then you should do both every day. It doesn’t matter if you throw out what you write, it’s the only way to build writing muscle. And read widely—not just in any one particular genre.

 And most important of all, trust in your voice. I think there are far too many creative writing courses out there telling you ‘how it’s done’. There are no rules. There is no limit to individual creative expression. Don’t try to write like someone else or what you think publishers will want. Everyone will tell you that you should do exactly that, including publishers—except what they really want is a distinctive new voice.


The JAN FABEL series:

Blood Eagle (2005)

Brother Grimm (2006)

Eternal (2007)

The Carnival Master (2008)

The Valkyrie Song (2009)

A Fear of Dark Water (2010)

The Ghosts of Altona (2015)

The LENNOX series:

Lennox (2009)

The Long Glasgow Kiss (2010)

The Deep Dark Sleep (2011)

Dead Men and Broken hearts (2012)

The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid (2016)

Biblical (2014)

Released in UK paperback as The Third Testament (2015)


Translated into twenty-three languages worldwide and dramatized for television and radio.

Craig Russell is the only non-German to be awarded the highly prestigious Polizeistern by the Polizei Hamburg; 

finalist for the 2007 CWA Duncan Lawrie Golden Dagger and the SNCF Prix Polar in France; 

winner of the 2008 CWA Dagger in the Library; 

finalist for the 2012 Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year; 

finalist for the 2013 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger; 

winner of the 2015 Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year.  

The first television adaptation in Germany of a Jan Fabel novel attracted an audience of six million viewers. Two further novels have been made into films.

Website is:

The main Facebook page is ‘CraigRussellBooks’:



Amazon Author Page


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